Finding a reliable camera is like finding a good friend, but it can be hard to figure out which one is right. In the world of interchangeable lens cameras (ILC), the decision can be even tougher when it comes down to deciding between a DSLR or a mirrorless camera. If you want something more compact, mirrorless cameras (also known as compact system cameras, or CSC) are for you: mirrorless cameras are typically smaller and easier to carry than a DSLR, but you might have to carry a flash and extra lenses. The newest mirrorless cameras now deliver image quality that’s on par with many DSLRs, and some even boast about fast autofocus and burst speeds. Within this category there are many options to choose from – from the super-compact to high-end 4K filmmakers – and we’ve round up some of the best ones out there. Get your hands on one of our favorites.
Samsung NX1 ($1,500)
This is Samsung’s flagship mirrorless camera, and it is not only the company’s best camera ever, but one of the best, period. It has all the things you want in a camera plus features you won’t find in most ILCs. The NX1 has an ergonomic, DSLR-like design that makes hitting the controls and dials incredibly easy, yet thinner than its bigger cousin. With Bluetooth 3.0 and Wi-Fi, it is one of the most connected cameras out there. A place where the NX1 excels is filming video, since it can shoot both Cinema 4K and 4K Ultra High Definition (UHD); you can also extract 8-megapixel still photos out of a UHD video. With its snappy performance and great image and video capture, the NX1 became our favorite camera of 2014. If you don’t need all the features, stay tuned for the upcoming NX500, which uses many of the NX1’s components but in a more compact form-factor.
Sony A7 Mark II ($1,700)
Sony blew us away with the A7, the first mirrorless camera with a full-frame sensor (it won our 2013 Camera of the Year). Just when we thought Sony had set the bar high, it punched through it with the new A7 Mark II. With high-end cameras, full-frame sensors are the pinnacle of digital photography without moving into super-expensive medium-format cameras. But what Sony has achieved is squeezing a large 35mm sensor into a compact body. With the Mark II, Sony also managed to jump over another engineering hurdle by incorporating a rock-steady 5-axis image stabilization system that makes both photos and videos incredibly sharp and steady. It also shoots better videos, thanks to Sony’s XAVC-S compression format. Even better? The original A7 is sticking around, but it has dropped to $1,200, making it one of the most affordable full-frame cameras you can buy (if you can live without the new features). Downside: It’s not great for action shots.
Fujifilm X-T1 ($1,300)
Fujifilm has one of the more expensive cameras on the list but it is worth it. The X-T1 is a camera for experienced photographers. That’s not to say a beginner couldn’t use the camera to its full potential, but it will take time to learn all the features. So why do we love it? Well, because it takes some of the most beautiful images you can shoot with a camera. The body is water-resistant and cold proof; you can’t submerge this camera, but it will stand up to getting splashed. There isn’t a classic mode dial like most cameras, and you adjust settings using three dials on the top. Moving shots in low lighting are harder to manage, and while video looks great outdoors, things will have to be adjusted before moving indoors. Wi-Fi lets you pair the camera with your phone (via the Fujifilm Camera Remote app for iOS or Android) for remote operation and photo uploads.
Sony Alpha A6000 ($650)
The first thing we noticed about the Sony Alpha A6000 is the second command dial on the top, which makes it much easier to adjust the shooting parameters. The other important feature of the body is the Sony E-mount. The kit comes with a 16-50mm OSS f/3.5-5.6 power zoom, but Sony also offers 17 E-mount lenses and there are also a few third-party options. The second is an electronic viewfinder (EVF), which Sony managed to squeeze into a compact body. Unlike many compact mirrorless options, this one does come with a pop up flash, so that’s one less thing to buy (unless you want a more powerful flash). If you’ve used previous Sony CSCs, the Alpha A6000 will feel familiar. The video is 1080/60p and has very good image stabilization. The LCD screen on the back stands up even in direct sunlight, but it doesn’t offer touchscreen capabilities. A better lens would make this an excellent camera; the one in the kit is decent, but it doesn’t allow the Alpha A6000 to live up to its potential.
Samsung NX30 ($1,000)
If you like the feel of a DSLR, the NX30 is a great starter mirrorless option. It has a pop up flash, two dials on the top, vari-angle AMOLED display, and a pull-out EVF. The lens in the kit is an 18-55mm, which is a good starter lens. You can move out of Auto and use the graphic interactive interface to adjust aperture, shutter speed, ISO, exposure compensation, and white balance without taking your eye off the camera. Like nearly all Samsung cameras, it is equipped with Wi-Fi for image transfers and remote operation (via iOS or Android device). There is a mic on the top but a mic input lets you get clearer sound on your 1080/60p video, through an external mic.
Olympus OM-D E-M1 ($1,400)
This DSLR-like camera has an excellent EVF and a touchscreen LCD that is really easy to use. It also offers superior ISO capability, and takes great images. Like Sony’s A7 Mark II, the E-M1 uses 5-axis image stabilization to keep things steady. It also has a weather-resistant body. The knock against the camera is that it is pricey, but it has been out for a while so be sure to check for lower prices.